Ipswich retailers worry over town centre's 'decline'

Ipswich town centre
Ipswich residents want to see improvements being made to the town centre to attract more people

Three shopkeepers have said a town centre was in need of regeneration to secure its long-term future.

Ipswich town centre has a number of empty prominent units including Debenhams on Westgate Street as well as the former Co-op building on Carr Street.

Conservatives and Liberal Democrat councillors from Ipswich Borough Council said that the town centre has "suffered".

Labour, which controls the council, said it was working on several regeneration plans as well as continuing a "strong events programme".

'Towns are changing'

Alan Rayner
Alan Rayner wants to see the council stepping in to help regenerate the town centre

Alan Rayner owns Twist and Shout on Stephens Lane, which specialises in men's clothing.

He said that while he is in a fortunate position where the council helps him pay his business rates, he believed that it could be doing more for others.

"The council should start speaking with the landlords about maybe reducing the rent or even [helping] pay towards it," he said.

"I think that's the way to bring people in."

Mr Rayner believed Ipswich would "thrive" with more independent shops, rather than large chains.

"You've got to look into what other towns have got - to look at what they're doing right and we're doing wrong to attract more people," he added.

"Towns are changing from what they were in the 70s and 80s.

"There's now a lot of shopping being done online but you don't feel the fabric and you don't have the service - that's the difference you get when you go into a retail shop."

'It's been really hard'

Samantha Leeder
Samantha Leeder believes people cannot afford to come into Ipswich anymore

"There's not enough [clothing] shops for men and there's nothing really here for the youngsters," Samantha Leeder, a shop worker at Zeebra Chic, said.

"The streets also need cleaning for a start, they are disgusting, there's rubbish everywhere."

An added problem she highlighted was that many workers have to pay for parking in the town centre.

She said the cheapest parking she has found is £4.95 to park for the day.

"To keep businesses running [the council] needs to cut the cost of everything," she continued.

"Since Covid hit it has been really hard, people just can't afford to come into the town so they avoid it."

'Not a lot of interest'

Shane McSheen
Ipswich's high street does not offer enough according to Shane McSheen

An ideal day in Ipswich for Shane McSheen, a shop assistant at Procter's Sausages, would be "a day where you can spend a couple of hours - not 30 minutes".

"I just think there is a lack of shops and there's not a lot of interest," he explained.

"You can walk through the town within 10 minutes and go home.

"I think we need some bigger retailers to bring the customers in and more interest to the town - that'll help the independent businesses."

Mr McSheen described the state of the empty units throughout the town centre as "horrible" and "sad".

He urged the council to consider helping to bring in more shops for children as well as more facilities for people to enjoy.

'Possible permanent decline'

Conservative councillors said that the town centre has seen "a rapid decline which unless reversed soon may become permanent".

"We have multiple empty units, both small and large despite the government awarding Ipswich £8m, as part of the Town’s Fund, to tackle this two years ago," a spokesperson said.

"We must immediately begin spending the millions of pounds of Town’s Fund money, which was specifically given to improve the fortunes of our town centre."

The party believed that the town centre was "not a safe and welcoming place to be" for residents and visitors.

If in charge of the council, the party said it would have "a zero-tolerance approach to crime and anti-social behaviour" to encourage more people to visit.

Other plans the party said it would implement included expanding the indoor market and creating a culture hub at the empty Ancient House where independent local businesses could be showcased.

"The town could and should be a more friendly and vibrant place where people are happy to spend their time," the spokesperson added.

"We all realise that times are tough, but if this was all down to a lack of funding, or government policy, then everywhere would be suffering the same.

"A quick look at Bury St Edmunds or Norwich will tell you that is not the case."

'Reclaim their pride'

Liberal Democrat councillors similarly believed the town centre has "not been prioritised over recent years" by the council.

"Consequently [the town centre] has suffered more than it should have as a result of changes in shopping behaviour," a spokesperson said.

"It has not been helped by a conflict of interests due to the council's ownership of retail parks on the edge of the town."

They believe relocating the council offices to the town centre, along with other service providers, could increase footfall.

While incentives for independent businesses and restaurants to open up would "bring back much needed vibrancy to the Cornhill," they say.

"Most of all, long delayed projects such as the improvements to Arras Square, talked about for over five years, need to be delivered.

"Ipswich residents can then reclaim their pride in the town.

"We can join Ipswich Town Football Club and push for promotion to the Premier League!"

'Attractive and green'

Ipswich town hall
Ipswich Borough Council says it has several plans to improve the town centre

Labour councillors said the council has several projects it is working on to improve the town.

A spokesperson said this included working on a "new look" to Lloyds Avenue to make it "more attractive and greener".

Unex, which owns the former Debenhams building, previously said pedestrianisation of Lloyds Avenue would be crucial for securing a new tenant.

The group said it was working on a regeneration fund to open empty units back up, which it said have had "a good deal of interest".

Other plans cited by Labour councillors included creating a "Digital Ipswich" website to act as a digital billboard, making the town feel safer with an increase in police patrols and more dedicated police community support officers and a continuing of the events programme which saw 200,000 people visit the town last year.

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